To Berlin and Beyond: 3 Cross-Cultural Tips for Business Travelers in Germany

06/15/2017 11:51 am ET
Frankfurt, Germany
Photo by Pixabay
Frankfurt, Germany

From Adidas to Audi and Volkswagen to Mercedes-Benz, proof of Germany’s dynamic industrial economy is everywhere. With sophisticated technological advancement, superior economic infrastructure, and a skilled, multilingual labor force, it comes as no surprise that Germany is Europe’s largest economy and one of the world’s top industrial leaders. This Western European powerhouse has had steady economic growth since 2011, boasting the highest GDP in Europe since 2015 and achieving an all-time high trade balance of 25.7 million euros in 2016.

While Germany’s internationalized economy welcomes a diversity of cultures, it’s crucial for business travelers to understand key aspects of German identity for smooth, successful business relations. For those negotiating in Berlin or doing business in Bavaria, keep these essential insights in mind.

1. Watch the Clock: When meeting with German business professionals, strive to be well-prepared and punctual. Germans view time as a valuable commodity to be allocated efficiently, and believe that ten minutes early is better than one minute late. According to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, 85 percent of German professionals report that they take their schedules seriously and expect the same from others. If you run late, call and explain your situation instead of expecting others to wait patiently. Arriving late without a valid reason is a sign of disrespect; showing-up even five minutes behind schedule may offend.

2. Favor Formality: Consider the German proverb Lieber biegen, als brechen: “better to bow than break.” German business culture values deference and diplomacy, so making extra effort to respect customs such as proper titles and organizational hierarchy is essential to maintaining mutual respect and goodwill.

For example, when addressing business partners or senior members of a company, refer to them as Herr (Mr) or Frau (Ms), their professional title, and their last name. Also communicate with the proper hierarchical level and department, as German businesses are meticulously structured with defined roles and responsibilities.

3. Strive for Superiority: Competition is king in Germany, home to the largest population with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the European Union. Professionals often speak two or more languages, are well-trained in their field, and base their identity on individual achievement rather than in-group ties. Understand that your German counterparts aim for perfection, and collaborate with clear goals and deadlines in mind. A successful business deal or partnership will be measured by how effectively you are able to contribute to their standard of quality and efficiency.

Germany’s accelerated economy and industrious workforce offers international businesses numerous opportunities for investment and expansion. In order to access this dynamic market and build long-lasting relationships, remember these cultural tips for a business trip that’s worth every euro.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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